We’re about a year away from the revived World Cup of Hockey, an event that has surely seen it’s share of criticism. Part of the problem is that two of the teams involved aren’t even countries. I’ve already profiled what Team Europe will look like for the World Cup, but what about the other non-existent country taking part in the event?
Meet the Team North American Youngstars, a team built up of the best players 23-years and younger from Canada and the United States. It’s a strange creation, to be honest, angering many die-hard international hockey followers. But, you know, we’ll live with it. It could make for some interesting development choices down the road, and ultimately, we may see some better action than we would if Germany or France held down the position.
Without further ado, here’s my look at what the offense could look like. Take a look at Part One to see the back end projection.
Alex Galchenyuk – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Nathan MacKinnon
Galchenyuk may not have excelled to NHL stardom the way some people projected, but his best years are still to come. Projected as Montreal’s second best left winger behind Max Pacioretty, Galchenyuk had 20 goals and 46 points in 80 games last season, good to give him 104 points in his short career. Funny enough, Galchenyuk is still, offensively, the best player to come out of the 2012 NHL Draft, and while he has had his share of criticisms, he’s just 21. He’s got so much to prove, an with the expectation that he’ll hit 50+ points this year, he’ll be a big asset when the tournament takes place in 2016.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins knows a thing or two about tough competition. He’s used to playing against the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Logan Couture and many more stars from the Western Conference on a nightly basis. Ever since he was an NHL rookie back in 2011-2012, RNH has been put into tough, yet important situations due to poor depth in the Edmonton Oilers system. Nugent-Hopkins’ international record speaks for itself, recording a point-per-game in all but one appearance for Team Canada at various events. Even so, his one tournament where he didn’t get a PPG was during the 2012 World Championships, where the underaged forward dazzled fans with six points in eight games.
Hot off of a spectacular 2015 World Championship performance is Nathan MacKinnon, known for being pretty good at the cold-weather sport. The first overall pick from the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon put up nine points in ten games to help Canada win their first World Championship in years. His NHL sophomore campaign wasn’t exactly groundbreaking in nature, but MacKinnon is expected to head back towards the high 60’s this year points-wise. He shouldn’t have an issue making his presence known at the World Cup, so he’ll most likely be a lock.
Johnny Gaudreau – Sean Monahan – Mark Scheifele
Gaudreau and Monahan. Talk about a pairing. The Calgary Flames are hoping these two can become the next Kane-Toews pairing, and with their success in their short NHL careers so far, they’re definetly on their way to become elite NHLers. Johnny Hockey has pretty much dominated everywhere he’s played, and it’s only a matter of time until we see him hitting 80+ points per season. Gaudreau is easily one of the most interesting young forwards in the entire league, and if his World Championship performance in 2014 is any indication of his skill, he’ll be a lock for the USA Olympic team in 2018 if NHLers do indeed compete in that tournament.
Helping Gaudreau bring Calgary back to glory is Monahan, a 20-year-old star who lit up the OHL during his days with the Ottawa 67’s. It’s interesting to note that Monahan has won gold medals at both previous junior international events he’s participated in, something that gives him a bit of an edge in terms of big game experience. Pairing him with Gaudreau seems like a smart option, as the two will look to be long term stars with the Flames and hopefully the American national team.
So who’s the lucky dude who gets to stand beside them? I personally nominate Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets. Usually known for his exploits down the middle, Scheifele will likely find himself on the wing if he’s to make the roster, and he should. He’s got the ability to dominate a game, and you can count on him to make big passes at key times. He’ll probably act more as a complimentary play-maker on this line, but that’s fine. He looked good for a directionless Canadian World Championship team in 2014, and while he won’t finish as the top scorer, Scheifele could be one of the best young players in the whole tournament.
Brandon Saad- Connor McDavid – Jonathan Huberdeau
Saad has been one of the hottest names in the NHL for the past few months. Shortly after winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, Saad found himself traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets to help revamp the struggling organization. Saad quickly became one of the more intriguing two-way forwards in the NHL, and considering the former U18 World Junior gold medalist forced his way on to Chicago’s first line last season, it’s clear that he deserves a spot in the mixed North American roster.
Alrighty, I know you’re bored of hearing about McJesus. I get it, he was all the rage for the past two years. McDavid is going to be a blast to watch during his rookie season, as he’ll likely smash the 60+ points barrier no issue. His inexperience may not warrant a higher spot on the depth chart, but that’s fine. He did quite well for Canada at the World Juniors in his two underage years after all. McDavid will be a dominant centre for the North American team at the World Cup, but it will be quite weird to watch him suit up against the country that he’ll represent for many years down the road.
A former third overall pick by the Florida Panthers, Jonathan Huberdeau is slowly, but surely, making himself quite effective offensively for his club. Not flashy, Huberdeau is coming off a career high 54 points from last season, a number that will surely rise with the amount of young talent coming in to help the Panthers organization. Internationally, Huberdeau has been quite the stud, especially with his nine point performance in 2012 to help Canada win the bronze medal. Look for him to be an underrated goal scorer when the tournament takes place in his home country.
Sean Couturier- Bo Horvat – Ryan Strome
Sean Couturier is another forward fresh off of a strong World Championship tournament for Canada. While his seven points in ten games wasn’t one of the higher totals for Canada, Couturier was one of the most effective bottom six players in the entire tournament, if not the best. He still hasn’t shattered expectations in the NHL (he has yet to crack the 40 point barrier after four seasons in the league), he does bring a solid defensive game that has proven successful with the Philadelphia Flyers. Role players do make an impact internationally, and if he can even be half as effective as he was at the World’s, he’ll be just fine.
Horvat is the right guy to have play centre on the fourth line. A very powerful two-way centreman, Horvat plays every shift like it’s his last. He’ll probably not have to worry about putting up large numbers offensively in the NHL, but his knack for being important in other areas could make him a player to watch. The Canucks obviously feel high enough about him to keep him from participating in the 2015 World Juniors, but that’s because he truly is a good hockey player. On this mixed roster, he’ll be a key player in a role position.
There’s a good chance Ryan Strome could be the worst of the three Strome brother’s, but that’s kind of unfair. There’s a possibility all three could end up being massive stars. Ryan had a tremendous first full season in the NHL, putting up 50 points in the shadow of John Tavares. Clearly, he’s good enough to suit up with an NHL superstar, so he’s got to have some skill. Strome’s got the skill to be better than a fourth liner in this tournament, but scoring wingers isn’t something the team is lacking on this roster. If he could just improve on his defensive game, Strome would be a fantastic two-way forward, but regardless, he’s going to chip in some goals if he does indeed make the team.
Jack Eichel – Jonathan Drouin
So why am I putting Eichel so low? Simple. In comparison to most of the team, he’s quite young. In fact, he’s the only two players coming off of rookie seasons on this list. I feel like, even if he does put up outstanding numbers in their debut, the team will look for older players to do most of the work. That’s just what happens at the international stage, and with most of the players participating coming from the NHL, it would make sense to give the guys with more experience playing against top NHL stars the chance to shoulder the load.
Drouin, on the other hand, has been around for a few years, but thanks to a crowded Tampa Bay Lightning system, he hasn’t been used all that often. A healthy scratch through most of the Stanley Cup playoffs this past season, Drouin has the ability to get real hot when needed, and in a short tournament where a gold is likely not an option, it’s going to be important to get him used to game action as much as possible.
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